Warmer Earth Could See Smaller Butterflies that Struggle to Fly, Affecting Food Systems

September 27, 2022

2022 Wall Scholar Michelle Tseng (Zoology & Botany) recent study has shown warmer temperatures can lead to smaller butterflies that collect less pollen and visit fewer flowers.

Tseng and recent graduate Erez Büyükyilmaz grew butterflies in the lab at different temperatures and found that the warmer the temperature, the smaller the butterfly, mimicking how increasing global temperatures due to climate change might affect the size of the insects. Then, using special equipment, they found smaller butterflies did not fly as far or as fast as the bigger ones, due to their smaller wings.

The researchers then collected 100 butterflies in the wild and measured their size and the amount of pollen on their faces. They found that the butterflies equivalent in size to those grown in the lab accumulated less pollen and visited fewer plants.

Butterflies are important pollinators, with insect pollinators needed for 75 per cent of the world’s crops, says Dr. Tseng. If butterflies around the world are decreasing in size because of climate change, this could have serious repercussions for our food systems.

You can find the full study here.